Speaking today at a public lecture held in London, Professor Mervyn Singer from UCL's Institute of Intensive Care Medicine said the impressive survival statistics of injured soldiers at the battles of Waterloo and Trafalgar serve as a reminder of how we underestimate the human body's ability to heal itself under the most extreme conditions. Of the 52 privates in the 13th Light Dragoons wounded by sabre, gunfire and cannon injuries at Waterloo, only two subsequently died.
Prof Singer says: "Despite the non-existence of antibiotics, blood transfusions, life-support machines and other paraphernalia of modern intensive care, most of these soldiers recovered, often from life-threatening injuries. Yet with all our technical advances in medicine, mortality rates from conditions such as sepsis (bacterial infection of the bloodstream) haven't improved dramatically over the past century.
"The question we need to ask ourselves is whether our present understanding of underlying pathology in medicine is leading us down the wrong path, and whether our current interventions may even be injurious to the healing process.
"Modern treatments trigger changes in the patient's inflammatory and immune responses or influence circulatory, hormonal, bioenergetic and metabolic systems in ways we don't appreciate. Even lowering the temperature of a feverish patient may be counter-productive. We may need to be more strategic in our treatments and therapies, tailoring them to how the body responds naturally to sepsis and other critical illnesses."